Sunday, 19 February 2012

Game 60: Montréal 1, New Jersey 3

We can talk all we want about the Canadiens being close and how if we squeak into the playoffs anything is possible, but looking at our lineup for today's game, even before puck drop we have to admit we just don't have the horses. We have a decent to good first line in Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole. Our second line has a good centre in Tomas Plekanec, a lethargic left winger in René Bourque and a right winger who is normally at best a fourth-liner in Mathieu Darche. Our third line is composed of a centre who should in good conscience retire, having spent a calendar year without scoring, Ryan White, who is barely back from a conditioning stint in the AHL and is a better fit on a fourth line, and Andrei Kostitsyn. We barely have a fourth line, it's a fourth line in name only, but doesn't serve as such. Lars Eller has been relegated to centre it, and Aaron Palushaj, a constantly ineffective and unproductive AHL'er, has been called up to plug a hole. That's it. We don't even have enough bodies to have a twelfth forward, and Coach Cunneyworth will resort to double-shifting his most effective forwards on the fourth line, and may give the seventh defenceman a shift of two in that spot.

Compare our situation with the Flyers', who started the season with Sean Couturier as their fourth line's centre, or the Bruins, who had Jordan Caron available to call up from the AHL when they started suffering from injuries. When Brian Gionta suffered his torn biceps, our already thin forwards roster became positively depleted, and our depth problem proven to be a glaring need. Calling up Louis Leblanc was rendered a necessity, and he has been a happy surprise everything considered, but he should be a workhorse in Hamilton instead of a leak-plugger in Montreal.

We have reinforcements coming in a couple of years, but until then, the Canadiens will not be a legitimate contender. In this latest surge to the playoffs, the Canadiens have been doing it with smoke and mirrors. They have the ingredients for two decent lines and maybe a fourth, and with three rookie defencemen on the back end, and a second-year defenceman logging first-pair minutes. Carey Price is an excellent franchise goalie, but is expected to be miraculous every night, like Ken Dryden in '71 or Patrick Roy in '93.

We saw tonight what happens when the bounces go the other team's way. Each team had its moments of dominance, but the Canadiens had the bad luck of muffing some chances while the Devils benefited from some flukey goals.

We're seeing also how this charge to the playoffs is a little bit of a case of running to stand still. The other teams standing between us and the eighth spot are also desperate to make it, and they will scratch and claw to get there. The Devils, Senators and Leafs will battle to remain where they are or improve their lot. For every win there'll be two teams ahead of us winning as well, and we'll end up in a NASCAR photo-finish: close, in the frame, but definitely out.

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